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Crackdown on taxi overcharge

- 28 vehicles fined, four touts held

Siliguri, May 22: The traffic police have launched a drive to crack down on taxis overcharging tourists heading to the Darjeeling hills and Sikkim. Four touts were arrested and 28 vehicles fined in the drive that started yesterday.

Traffic police personnel have been posted at three different locations on NH31 outside Siliguri since yesterday, checking every tourist vehicle travelling up.

“We have often heard that a section of drivers is charging tourists fares that are more than double the actual rate. With the onset of the tourism season, we launched a drive yesterday to keep a check on vehicles that fleece tourists. Our men are deployed near the circuit house, at Darjeeling More and Khaprail More in Matigara and are intercepting each light vehicle en route to the hills and Sikkim. We ask passengers how much money they have agreed to cough up before boarding the vehicle,” said Hemanta Das, the inspector in charge of Siliguri traffic police.

The police have already penalised 28 taxis for charging exorbitant fares.

“We have registered cases against 28 vehicles and slapped a fine of Rs 2,100 on each of them under the Motor Vehicles Act. While the stipulated fare for each passenger for the travel to Darjeeling and Gangtok from Siliguri are Rs 120 and Rs 140 respectively, the drivers have charged Rs 300-400 from the tourists,” said Das.

The ubiquitous touts at every entry point in Siliguri also came under scanner in the crackdown. Four persons were picked up from the Tenzing Norgay Central Bus Terminus area yesterday for offering tourists seats against higher prices.

“The four were telling tourists that there was a shortage of cabs and they would arrange for seats if the passengers were ready to part with amounts double or triple the regular fare. Our men, present at the spot, have arrested the four for cheating people,” said a source.

The touts were later produced in court and granted bail.

The tourists have always alleged that they are taken for a ride by taxi drivers when they embark at Bagdogra airport, NJP railway station and the bus terminus. However, nobody has ever filed a complaint.

“We are there to help tourists and commuters but they do not turn up to file complaints. The drive was launched after we learnt of the harassment faced by commuters. We want everyone to come forward and help us stop such illegal practices,” said a police officer.

Sources in the travel sector said around 1,500 light vehicles headed for the hills every day with tourists, while around 700 vehicles came down to Siliguri.

The tourism industry has welcomed the crackdown.

“Attempts by a section of taxi drivers to make easy money is taking their toll on north Bengal’s image. Some drivers keep their vehicles away and create an artificial crisis to charge exorbitant rates. Such people are not concerned about the welfare of the industry; they simply want to cheat tourists,” said Samrat Sanyal, the president of the Eastern Himalaya Travel and Tour Operators’ Association.

Sanyal said the police should also take action against reserved vehicles for overcharging. “We have information that some vehicles reserved by tourists to ferry them to Gangtok and Pelling today charged Rs 4,500 and Rs 6,000 respectively when the regular fares are around Rs 2,000 and Rs 2,500. We want the traffic police to verify the rates of reserved vehicles as well.”